When you’re free from birth and death, you know where to go.
When your four elements separate into sleep and dreams, where do you go?
—Doushuai’s Three Barriers (amended), Gateless Gate Case 47
Essential in older traditions, including the “primitive” ones, is the idea that the soul separates from the body during sleep. It wanders then, a wandering which means … its attention is not fixed on the aims of the day.
—James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld
Last week I visited Corey Hitchcock, a PZI friend who is gravely ill. She has not taken food or water for some time and was markedly diminished since my last visit. Yet she still shone with a kind of light.
Corey gestured for me to pull up a chair. I sat close and took her hand, which was soft and warm. Her daughter was there, saying Corey was a bit loopy from the morphine. Corey began our conversation talking about the “crazy cancer” she had, and something about monkeys in a tree. I looked at her daughter to interpret. We all chuckled together.
Soon she closed her eyes and fell asleep. As I sat holding Corey’s hand, it would occasionally twitch, like the hands of sleeping infants and puppies. My friend was dreaming, leaning on the gate that separates life and death.
Where do we go when we enter dreamland? Talking with her teacher a week ago, Corey mentioned how for some months leading up to her diagnosis she felt as though her ‘self’ was dissolving into the environment around her. Sitting with her, I felt the continuity of things, the community of things, the intimacy of things.
My friend was still asleep a half hour later when I put down her hand, kissed two fingers and touched her forehead and left.
image credit: original artwork by Corey Hitchcock